Simple Meal Prep For Athletes
- June 3, 2020
- Last Updated: February 3, 2023
- 16 Comments
- meal prep
Make meal prep for athletes easier with some of these simple meal prep tips that help you cut corners but still make easy, balanced meals to fuel activity!
I recently gave a presentation about meal planning and meal prepping during training season, so I figured I’d share my process with you guys.
These tips are super helpful meal prep tips for athletes and active individuals. I actually recommend them often to athletes who are following a marathon taper or looking for marathon taper nutrition advice.
This can be a great way to fill extra time!
And if you’re looking for meal prep recipes for athletes or even some of the best athlete meal delivery services, I have plenty of information on those too, including college meal prep.
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Meal planning does not need to be overly structured or rigid. Meal planning and intuitive eating can coexist.
Meal planning can also work however you need or want it to. You want it to work for your family and schedule, without being overly stressful.
Meal planning can be great no matter what phase of life you’re in – welcoming a new baby, needing postpartum snacks, breastfeeding snacks or cheap college meals.
Should You Meal Prep?
Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to meal plan. I actually have clients write out their schedule for the week (what nights do you have events/commitments?) when we’re figuring out what meal planning looks like for them.
But, for most athletes, doing some form of simple meal prep or mental prep can help, especially if you’re working on nutrition for marathon training.
Making sure you have meal prep-able foods on hand! I use this runners grocery list to help structure my grocery shopping.
Meal Prep For Athletes Tips
As mentioned earlier, prepping meals for athletes can definitely be helpful for a busy week ahead, filled with practices, training sessions and other commitments.
And easy breakfast meal prep comes to mind as one of the most important ways to start a day before or after a workout. We do this through lots of ways to meal prep oatmeal and snacks.
If you spend a little time on the forefront, you’ll reap way more time on the backend. Plus, you can spend more time recovering, sleeping and more!
I know after I do my pyramid workout, the last thing I want to do is think about standing up and making dinner.
Benefits of meal planning:
- Saves money
- Decreases food waste
- Improves the quality of your diet
- Decreases prep time, cooking time and clean up
- Eliminates stress
So, here are my favorite tips and athlete meal prep ideas. These especially apply to later in the week, like Wednesday night dinner and Thursday night dinner ideas, when your brain is fried and probably your body too from your workouts!
Be Realistic With Your Training Schedule
First and foremost, when I say meal planning, people conjure up this idea of spending 5 hours on a Sunday in the kitchen – neglecting their family and obligations and turning down Sunday fun.
That’s not the case. I mean, if you like it that way and it works for you, then bravo. But, that doesn’t work for everyone.
So, find what works for you, and work around your training or marathon training schedule. This can work as meal prep for recreational athletes, meal prep for high school athletes, whatever!
Maybe you do a majority of the prep on your off day, or after your long run when you’re starving and making your post-workout meal anyway.
Make Different Parts of Meal Prep Work For You
To do simple meal prep, you can literally be as simple as you want with your methods.
Meal prep can include:
- pre-washing veggies/fruits
- chopping veggies or meats (freezing single servings for later, if needed)
- sauteeing or baking veggies for the week (sheetpan meals are great for this! We love 20 minute honey garlic shrimp and broccoli and sheet pan salmon and veggies)
- dividing meals/ingredients into tupperware for salads.
- pre-portioning snacks (nuts/seeds in individual bags or containers), making a batch of hempseed granola bars, or vegan 3 ingredient cookies
- Baking 5 sweet potatoes or grilling 5 chicken breasts at once because it takes the same amount of time as baking or grilling 2 breasts
Meal prep doesn’t have to run the gamut of making all of your carbs, fats, proteins, veggies AND snacks. You can just prep certain components of meals to make things easier.
What Day Should You Meal Plan?
Think about your training schedule and review the following questions:
- Are you more energetic or useless after a long, hard workout?
- When are you hungriest?
- When do you have the most energy or the most time?
- Can you roast some potatoes in the morning while you’re getting the kids ready for school?
- Can you hard boil some eggs while you’re eating dinner with the family?
There’s no right or wrong way to meal prep. Whether you do it all at once or do it sporadically based on your time and energy, any bit you can do helps!
Make a List of What You Have Vs. What You Need
This is number one on everyone’s tips for meal planning, but it’s so true. Meal planning does involve a little preparation – so, take stock of what you already have in your kitchen cabinet or pantry staples.
And then, make note of what you want to make, so you know what else you need to buy.
For inspiration on what you want to make, think about your local farmer’s market and what’s in season, a recipe you saw in a magazine/cookbook/cooking show/Pinterest, or even what’s on sale at your grocery store this week.
More often than not, I’ll take notes of the deals and plan my weekly menu off of that. Or, I often use many recipes in the Run Fast Eat Slow and Run Fast Eat Slow Cook Fast cookbooks.
Also, if you’re following recipes, try choosing some that use the same ingredients to decrease your grocery costs.
I usually go to the grocery store twice a week, so my list each time is a little shorter.
Some people find grocery lists like this and this easier for organizing and planning their actual meals.
When you’re making your list, don’t forget about snack foods!
String cheese, nuts, fruit, raw veggies, crackers, edamame, hummus, yogurt, cottage cheese, oats, peanut butter, peanut butter powder – those are important for meal prep too!
Other ingredients I recommend always keeping stocked: Hemp seeds and chia seeds. Not only are they full of nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, and iron, they are also pretty easy to add to anything!
Add them to yogurt, oatmeal, and even salads, and pack a protein and fatty acid punch.
Snack Recipes for Athletes
- Use your oats for maple cinnamon granola
- 4 Ingredient Trail Mix
- Vegan hemp protein bars or Nut Free protein bars
- Vegan protein bites
- Carrot Cake Energy Bites
- 5 Ingredient Peanut Butter Energy Bites with Sweet Potato
- Banana Chia Pudding
- Salted Cinnamon Peanut Butter
- Boil a dozen eggs for HB eggs to top salads, grab and go athlete snacks or for breakfast
- Sweet potato zucchini muffins
- Banana chickpea muffins
- Cherry chocolate chip oatmeal cups
- 3 ingredient vegan banana cookies
Batch Prepare Foods and Ingredients
Need a meal prep plan? Read on!
I really like to multi-task when I’m doing some meal prep so I’m not there all day. While one thing is cooking, do something else.
Whether it’s vegan breakfast meal prep, or prepping lunches for runners, there are endless ideas and ways to do it.
So, for example, this week I cut and roasted some sweet potatoes, made my asparagus and mushroom quiche, lentil and cous cous salad, caramelized some onions, cooked some broccoli, and made a loaf of zucchini bread.
The way I did these easy prep meals all in under two hours takes a little bit of strategic planning.
First, I cooked my grains – lentils and cous cous – for the salad. While the grains were cooking, I washed and poked sweet potatoes and threw them in the oven (350 for 40 minutes).
I microwaved my bag of steamables broccoli and sauteed the onions.
Once the grains were done, I added the other ingredients for the salad, and boom, that’s done.
I also generally make a form of these zucchini sweet potato fritters each week, and freeze extra for later! Top them with greek yogurt for extra protein.
PS – Moroccan lentil cous cous salad recipe comes from Run Fast Eat Slow. My favorite recipe in the book!
I separated the broccoli in a separate Tupperware, and once the onions were done, put them in a small glass container too.
Next, I mixed the eggs and veggies for my quiche and got that started on the stove, then put it in the oven for a couple of minutes.
I love quiches because they’re nice and quick.
Pro tip: While you’re doing this, keep a bag close by for all of your scraps so you don’t have to keep walking over to the trash.
Lastly, I wanted to make some bread. I usually make bread or chickpea muffins for the week for some easy grab and go snacks.
I made Sally’s zucchini greek yogurt bread. By the time I had all the ingredients mixed and ready to throw in the oven, the sweet potatoes were done.
So, while the bread was baking, I cleaned up everything, and boom, that was my meal prep for this week.
It’s not extravagant, and it’s not a ton, but the quiche will be easy for breakfasts or lunches, and the lentil salad can be lunches or dinners.
The broccoli/sweet potatoes can complement anything or just be a great snack.
If we run out of food, I’ll probably cook some chicken or tempeh later this week that should last me through the end of the week.
If you hate cooking, I hope to do a follow up on athlete meal delivery services which may be helpful.
Quick Athlete Meals
You don’t always have to follow recipes either when creating athlete meals.
Sometimes, just cooking a bunch of macronutrients (grains, potatoes, proteins) and separating them out is fine. Nice and simple too!
If you’re looking for some easy recipe ideas for athletes and runners, here are some of my favorites.
- Cook a large batch of oatmeal for overnight oats for the week or baked sweet potato blueberry oatmeal
- Cook beans or lentils (love this lentil hummus dip)
- Bake a loaf of sweet potato bread or almond flour banana muffins, which are ready in 30 minutes
- Mason jar salads
- Make a large batch of anti-inflammatory oatmeal
- Prepare salad dressings or marinades
- Soups! This instant pot pumpkin soup is high carb and full of antioxidants.
- Cook a batch of lemon herb cheesy quinoa, and a bunch of chicken breasts. Use the extra quinoa for a turkey taco quinoa skillet.
- Make homemade hummus or a sweet potato cookie dough dip
- Pasta! The easiest thing to make and freeze. Gluten free pasta salad is great and this veggie pasta bake is the best for freezing and reheating!
This roundup of freezer meal recipes for kids has some easy, hands off meal ideas!
Many of these also work as leftover lunch for athletes to take to the office or reheat at home.
Don’t Forget The Freezer
This post is a great exhaustive list of the best freezer meals. Great for new moms, prepping for surgery or a major event, or just for meal prepping.
Don’t forget about your freezer friends! It can be your best friend for convenience.
Fill it with leftovers if you cook too much, so when you need it, you can thaw them out.
I love frozen fruit, frozen steamable veggie bags, chicken sausage, frozen fish/shrimp, grains and more.
Meal planning can be 20 minutes, it can be an hour, or it can be a couple of hours.
There’s no right or wrong way to do it – it’s whatever works best for you and your schedule. I hope you find this helpful!
Other Athlete Meal Prep Resources
- 51 Healthy Athlete Meals
- Easy Breakfasts for Athletes
- Pantry Staples for Runners
- How to save money at the grocery store
- Tips for stocking your pantry
Do you meal plan? What works for you?
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These are such great tips! I think too many people over-complicate meal prep when it can actually be so easy!
I agree – meal planning is whatever works for you!
Ive been finding having a couple chicken breasts cooked up, a couple sweet potatoes roasted, and some sort of loaf or muffins for breakfasts to be my staples right now. If I have those in my fridge I at least feel like I can add them to whatever I pick up or make.
Those are my staples when I don’t want to follow recipes per say, but have balanced options available for the week!
Whenever we don’t meal plan, we end up eating cereal or cheese and crackers for dinner, lol. It is so KEY to making our lives easier – and also for saving money on groceries. We rarely go out to eat so it’s important for me to have all my food for the week and know what I’m going to make.
We are the same way – I could have cereal, or lots of eggs for dinner if I don’t plan! Not that that’s a bad thing… 🙂
I feel like I have meal planning down to a science now. We only go to the grocery store every 2 weeks (yes you read that right). We use Clicklist, so I don’t even go in the grocery store. I plan out meals/snacks/lunch ideas, etc. for a 2 week period, which for us, means planning out 8-10 dinner meals. I utilize the cook once-eat twice approach a lot of times. We also usually dine out at least once weekly. We rely on frozen veggies a lot for the 2nd week, and focus on eating most of the fresh produce during the first week. I rotate our scheduled on a weekly basis. I have them planned out like a school or facility would: Monday is Meatloaf, Tuesday is Tacos, etc. Once I had an entire 4 weeks mapped out, I no longer have to think about what we’re having for dinner, I just look at the calendar and plan from there. Of course, if I find we’re getting tired of something, we switch it up. But most people tend to go back to the same things over and over for the most part anyway. We also use the freezer. I package up leftovers in flat Tupperware and it’s like we have our own frozen entrée meals (that are way better for us). Great post!
Girl, I love the way you do it! You certainly do have it nailed down to a science 🙂
For my family, meal plan usually doesn’t work. Random things pop up in our schedule or sometimes we get to the day and that’s just not what we’re craving. That’s why I like to only pick out a couple meals at a time for the week or just have things on hand I know I can do a variety of things with. I’m actually about to go prep some veggies right now! I love having veggies+protein ready to go for throwing into my lunch whether it be pasta, a rice bowl, or anything else like that.
I love that – totally catering it to what works for you guys! Sometimes, 2 nights a week is perfect for us too, knowing we will be eating out, or at events, etc. Sometimes, it’s nice to be spontaneous 🙂
I don’t usually meal plan, but I love the idea of batch preparing ingredients or even just doing one thing in bulk. One of the best things is to chop lettuce and veggies, as we often have salads, but it’s nice to have a pre-prepared salad so you can just throw it into a bowl. We also really love having cooked meat in our freezer that we can take out for a dinner!
The batch prep is my favorite – if I have pre chopped veggies, I’ll snack on them. If I don’t, I’ll snack on something else (like cookies 😉
My husband and I both work 50-60 hours a week and we have a toddler. Meal planning is essentially to my well-being and sanity. I keep a list on my phone of around 25 meals I know my husband and I both like. On the weekend or during a quiet minute at work, I’ll make a quick list of five meals I will make that week, accounting for one take out night and one leftovers night to make seven days of the week. If I can’t think of any ideas, I just consult my list of tried and true favourites. I’ll make my grocery list according to my meal list. I usually order my groceries for pick up (in Canada, it’s only 3 bucks at wal mart for this service) to make that part a breeze. Then on the day I shop, I”ll wash/prep/cut all my fruit and veggies, and potentially pre-cook a few things for meals that week. My dinners are more assemble and heat than actual cooking, but it works for this busy stage in my life. I’m proud I continue to make home cooked meals even with my busy work schedule and young child. You included some great tips here – way to make meal planning seem accessible to all!
Hi Andrea – thanks for sharing! That is super impressive and very inspiring how you manage to balance it all! I love your tip for just keeping a tried and true favorites list in your phone – so simple yet sometimes we can forget about the easy ones!